Golly! We haven’t been hearing much about Ukraine, Russia and the European Union lately. The Islamic State In Iraq And Syria and the sensational new Ebola health scare are just too darn interesting.
In fact the growing panic over Ebola is so powerfully grabbing public attention that you have to really dig to find out whether the Kiev government and the Eastern Ukrainian separatists are still honoring their cease fire according to the Minsk accord. We must continue to believe, I guess, that no news – or little news – is good news – or at least not too bad news.
But there are things going on behind the scenes that give us cause for hope that our dysfunctional relationship with the Russian Federation may not just cease deteriorating but may even turn around and begin to improve. Obviously the reason for the de-escalation of Washington’s anti-Russian invective, quickly echoed by Whitehall, is the even bigger demon of ISIS, the Islamic State In Iraq And Syria. The name preferred by public officials, notably President Obama, is ISIL, standing for Islamic State In Iraq And The Levant.
It’s clear that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s foreign jaunt through Eastern Europe and the Balkans produced some of the effects he was hoping for. After escorting President Putin through a formal inspection of snappily uniformed Serbian troops prime minister Aleksandar Vucic gave the resounding statement that “Nobody can force Serbia to damage its good relation with the Russian Federation.”
But the real payoff must have come when Putin arrived in Milan to confer with leaders of Europe and America. No doubt the original plan was to unleash even more empty threats over Ukraine, but the crisis of ISIS changed the game plan. With the islamist hordes advancing on Baghdad, not many were interested in brandishing toy swords like the yet-to-be-seen NATO Rapid Response Force. What happened instead was that Russia joined the anti-ISIS coalition. Beyond some very substantial humanitarian aid Moscow hasn’t yet provided warplanes (they have some of the world’s best) or support technology. But it’s a new tone of Russo-European discourse since Milan.
The recent mild shrinkage in deliveries of Russian natural gas to Western Europe, just as temperatures grow cooler, must also have served as a persuasive subtext to Moscow’s offer to rejoin the club in return for status quo diplomatic relations. Moscow blames it on new forms of Ukrainian skullduggery but it’s not hard to see a teeth-chattering winter ahead if Berlin continued its reluctant dance to Washington’s tune.
But just when things were beginning to look better in that diplomatic department, it was suddenly made clear to President Obama that West Africa’s killer epidemic of Ebola disease is a real danger to America. Cases have begun seeping into America, penetrating a costly but under managed security system in the nation’s airports and underlining a shocking unpreparedness in reputable hospitals.
Media news editors work to a scale of presumed news values known as the News Grid. The very top row of the grid is the category “Heart Strings.” You see so many of these every day that there’s no need to define this type of story further. Next comes “Purse Strings.” Well again, spotting this category of story on CNN or Fox is just shooting fish in a barrel. Big time editors eat, drink and sleep their News Grid.
Could any story other than Ebola push ISIS out of first place and relegate it to Number 2? We have our answer. And ISIS, now the second page news story, has pushed Ukraine and Russia down to an occasional appearance on the third rung of attention.
Andy Warhol exaggerated but he was right. We newshounds are a fickle bunch. We may give you more than Andy’s promised fifteen minutes but when something more exciting, bizarre, tragic or disastrous comes along, you’re yesterday’s paper, wrapping the garbage.